When people from Russia and Australia want to head to Nebraska, you know something big is going to happen.
A coast-to-coast total solar eclipse will occur inside a 65- to 70-mile-wide swath that will make its way across the country on Aug. 21, 2017. It will start in northwest Oregon before passing through the nation’s midsection and wrapping up in South Carolina.
In between, parts of 12 other states will be prime viewing areas in what’s called “the path of totality.” That includes about 3 square miles of southwest Iowa and a diagonal strip of Nebraska, from the northwest part of the Panhandle to the extreme southeast corner.
It will be the first total solar eclipse seen in the United States since 1979. The next one will be in 2024.
People inside and just outside the swath of best viewing are primed for an onslaught of visitors from across the globe, who could drop millions of dollars into local tills. Omaha is about 50 miles north of the prime path.
“Odds are fairly good you have never witnessed anything like a total eclipse of the sun,” said David Kriegler, a physics instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “And not since 1918 have we had a coast-to-coast total eclipse.”
When the sun is totally blocked out by the moon, Kriegler said, “the sky dims enough to see stars during daytime, and night birds and animals begin to stir. Temperatures will also be lower that day in the eclipse area.”
Lincoln, he said, is on the edge of the prime viewing area and will get a 1-minute, 24-second view. Grand Island, in the center of the path, will get a 2-minute, 34-second look.
The Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island will be ground zero, said Brad Mellema, executive director of the Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. The museum property’s south end will be the “dead center’’ of the total eclipse, he said.
“This is something quite unique and special,” he said.
The coming eclipse was brought to Mellema’s attention three or four years ago, he said. For the past year he has been involved in weekly meetings about it.
“We’re still in the planning stages,’’ he said, “but we’ve been getting a lot of calls.’’
In Grand Island, the total eclipse will start at 12:58:34 p.m.
The bureau is working with the Stuhr Museum to plan educational events ahead of the eclipse, including weekend programs and educational booths, he said.
The Grand Island area is accustomed to handling major events, such as the Nebraska State Fair, horse racing at Fonner Park, the annual migration of sandhill cranes and even past partial eclipses.
But the August 2017 total eclipse, which will fall on a Monday, will be the real deal, Mellema said.
“I think we’ll sell out all the hotels in the region,’’ he said.
In Alliance, which will get a 2-minute, 30-second prime viewing of the spectacle, the visitors bureau director said preparations are well underway.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,’’ said Kevin Howard, who also runs the nearby tourist attraction Carhenge. “There is no second chance on an eclipse.’’
Howard said he expects all 216 hotel rooms in Alliance to fill for the total eclipse, which will begin there at 11:49:13 a.m. MDT. He also said he expected 14,000 hotel rooms along the route across the state to be sold out up to three days in advance.
“We’re planning a four-day event leading up to the eclipse,’’ he said.
Alliance officials plan to bring in a portable planetarium, and they have arranged for educational programs, bands and food.
Hotels are keeping a waiting list because most establishments don’t let people book rooms more than 50 weeks out, he said.
“People want to make sure they’re in place for this,” he said. “People have been trying to book rooms for two years now.”
Howard said he has had inquiries from Australia and Russia.
A coalition of about 200 Nebraska communities along the eclipse’s route, from Alliance to Beatrice, are touting the event, which Howard said could pull in up to $30 million for Nebraska.
At the Nebraska Tourism Commission, officials said they are expecting big crowds at top viewing locations across the state, with 4,000 to 10,000 people at each site.
The commission said it is working with several viewing sites that lie in the path of totality. One prime viewing spot is the Sand Hills, which greatamericaneclipse.com said was one of the best viewing destinations.
People who are eclipse chasers, commission officials said, will travel thousands of miles to witness a total solar eclipse.
Kriegler said UNO is making its own viewing plans.
“We plan to have telescopes set up in a public area for the general viewing,’’ he said. “The exact location is still up in the air, since we’re having ongoing discussions with the Omaha Astronomical Society.’’
The farther someone is from the center line of the path of totality, Kriegler said, the shorter the time the eclipse will be visible. The sun also will be less obscured.
Omahans will get to see 98 percent of the total eclipse. The almost-total eclipse for Omahans will begin at 11:38 a.m., with maximum viewing at 1:04 p.m. and partial viewing ending at 2:30 p.m.
People’s views will, of course, be dependent on the weather. A local forecast that includes clouds and rain could push eclipse fans elsewhere.
What you need to know
» A solar eclipse occurs when the moon is directly between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow on Earth.
» The entire continental U.S. should see at least a partial eclipse, with the moon covering at least 48 percent of the sun’s surface.
» Depending on your location, the total eclipse will last for as little as 30 seconds or as long as 2 minutes, 41 seconds.
» The first viewing will be on the northwest Oregon coast.
» The eclipse ends at the Atlantic Ocean’s edge on the South Carolina coast.
» States where the total eclipse will appear, in order: Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina.
» A telescope is not needed. Totality is safe to view with the naked eye, as long as the moon’s disk completely covers the sun. But any naked-eye viewing of a less-than-100-percent eclipse will damage eyes.
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